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BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

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So, I've been saying for a while now that I'm going to write an editorial about our promotion strategy for BloodSpell. Here it is. Advanced warning: I'm going to swear.

It's interesting that Hollywoodiness has been by far the most controversial aspect of BloodSpell, more so than the music, the engine, or the self-harm aspects of the film. We've been told that BloodSpell gives people a "Hollywood feeling", I've been told that I'm being "selfish and damaging" for comparing BloodSpell and Hollywood productions, even if it's in the context of a more indie competitor. And I've seen people complaining that another film (Potentior by Nicholas Werner) "emulates the Hollywood epic style",

So... BloodSpell gives you a "Hollywood feeling"? Great. It should. It was written following the precepts of Robert McKee (the master of story in Hollywood right now) and the writing techniques of Joss Whedon (firmly Hollywood, no matter how brilliant he is). It was explicitly concieved as an epic, Hollywood-style action movie (you'll see that phrase crop up right from the start of this blog), as a result of my mantra for years that Machinima allows indie producers to create films with a plotline previously only accessible to the big studios.

(I don't understand the prejudice - and it is a prejudice, often held by the same people who are queuing up at the multiplex - against Hollywood movies. Sure, many of them are shite. Have you watched the average European indie film lately? They've got a reputation for quality because we only see the very cream of the crop - the rest of them, frankly, range from average to suck. Hollywood at least manages to hit "watchable" most of the time - and at its best, the system produces films that just couldn't have been made anywhere else. )

Machinima allows you - allows me - to create epic sets, to create casts of thousands, and to film the lot in your bedroom. Which means you get to miss out on all the exciting backstabbing and politics, the tiny, tiny chances of even modest success, the process of endless committees and producer meetings which my friend Alasdair Watson once memorably described as "taking your creation into a room and then fucking it with razorblades", and still make a Hollywood-esque movie.

So are we competing with Hollywood? Fucking right we are. I'm not interested in being seen as a "nice little Internet short". I'm not interested in being "user-made content". It's not what we're doing here. We're not their "users", we're their competition.

But surely I can't mean that I'm competing with Hollywood? I mean, they've got top stars, amazing visuals, special effects, genius cinematographers. BloodSpell's just a little game-engine project, with blocky characters and dodgy lipsynching.

Bollocks.

No, BloodSpell doesn't look as good as "Cars"*. In fact, it doesn't look as good as "The Return". (Ezra and Terran are officially Overly-Talented Bastards in my book). But the Blair Witch Project didn't look great, either. Nor did Clerks. Looks aren't the only way to compete.

My feeling is that Machinima and Machinimators have gotten scared. We've been burned by Ottowa, we've been burned articles in popular media. We've all shown what we consider great Machinima to someone whose opinion we care about, only to be told "I don't get it".

And so we've aimed our sights lower. I've seen advice on the Machinima.com forums recently saying one of the most important things in making a Machinima movie is to make it "short and sweet". I've seen people attack Machinima films purely for being too ambitious.

And we've set our critical faculties to kill. I've heard people saying that we need yet more criticism of Machinima (when the most vibrant and active Machinima community, Sims99, is also by far the nicest and most welcoming). I've heard prominent members of the Machinima community express the feeling that it would be good to exclude "some of the dross".

Right now, we've got a huge opportunity to do - well, whatever we want. More people than ever before are watching Machinima and watching films that are part of a dialogue, not a monolithic corporation's broadcast. That are full of ideas, perhaps even new or dangerous ideas, that haven't been carefully filtered by 50 lawyers and a room full of "producers" worried about how the movie'll play in the Midwest.

Sure, we're not in Empire yet, and I don't think Nicole Kidman or Johnny Depp will be queuing up to star in BloodSpell 2. But BloodSpell is winning viewers, thousands of them. And every single person who chooses to watch BloodSpell rather than whatever's on TV right now - that's a win. That's someone who has conciously decided that BloodSpell is a better watch than Friends rerun #24 or a dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy.

There's only one problem - in order for people to decide they like BloodSpell, or "The Return", or "An Unfair War", they have to find out about it. And that's where Hollywood still has a huge advantage.

So that's why we're putting ourselves out there so much, why we're using every tool available to us to make ourselves visible over the ambient noise of the mainstream media**. Because we want as many people as possible to see BloodSpell, so that the ones who would like it will find out they like it. And if we have to portray ourselves as being rivals to Pixar - why not? It's the truth.

If you're publishing video drama, in any fashion, you're competing with Steven Spielberg, you're competing with Pixar, and you're competing with Fox, whether you like it or not. The only choice you get to make is if you throw in the towel and claim you can't possibly win, or if you decide to make a fight out of it.

We've decided to make a fight of it. I hope more Machinima producers will do the same.


*I'd prefer to say we were competing with Peter Jackson, but there's the whole "animation" hurdle to get over. Evidence suggests people have real trouble comparing animation to non-animation, so Pixar it is.

**Oh, and on the "BloodSpell is big" front: BloodSpell has taken over 10,000 man-hours to make so far. Acts 1 to 3 contain 1,159 seperate shots. I've done a quick estimate and we've got over 90 speaking roles, and an estimated runtime of 115 minutes or more. If you know of a Machinima film bigger, send me stats, and we'll talk. Otherwise, the "biggest Machinima film ever" tag is here to stay.
  • (Anonymous)
    Your justification makes sense, but think of it from the point of view of your average internet-goer, and the rest of us machinimators.

    A regular joe sixpack sees "Biggest machinima film ever, on the scale of LotR and Pixar films on a shoestring budget". And they go "WOW! This machinima thing must be really new and exciting!". They download Bloodspell expecting to see Pixar level animation and Tolkien style storytelling. Their reaction?

    "Oh."

    That has nothing to do with the quality of Bloodspell. It has to do with creating hype and expectation in one way, then offering something entirely different.

    You made a great point about how graphics aren't necessarily important for the overall success of the film - Blair Witch, Clerks, South Park, even Red vs Blue, etc.

    That seems to fit BloodSpell much more accurately than comparing it with Lord of the Rings. Look at the credits for the first film, and the ridiculous level of work they did and the amount of money spent. The comparison just doesn't fit to most people, and that's where that complaint comes from.

    Don't be ticked off or get angry at these criticisms or controversies, by comparing yourselves to some of the best film productions of our time, you were asking for it.

    And before I get too carried away I'd also like to say I just have a different point of view on getting people to watch your film - I'm more in the "word of mouth" crowd than the "press release" crowd. So all that I say will probably sound like crabcakes to you, but I'll say it anyway. And I'm definitely not telling you guys what you should do, but just what I honestly think of all this.

    You guys are statistically the biggest machinima film ever. Big deal. Sure you can win a lot of viewers that way. But you can't expect the rest of us machinimators to sit still and take the beatdown do you? ;) You guys are not the only ones working your asses off. Calling yourselves the biggest machinima ever is kinda like Hitler crowning himself the Fuhrer. OK no, kidding, but you know, those kind of titles and descriptions are usually given by critics, fans, and the audience. Not the creator.

    We know you guys are working hard. You don't have to beat it over our heads every day.

    You know what feels so Hollywood to me about BloodSpell? It's not the quality of the movies, but those ridiculously stupid trailers with "From the director of (some film you've never seen)!", "From the man who brought you...", and "America's #1 movie!" etc, etc. I can't STAND this.

    "Biggest machinima film ever" is getting there. It has that same feeling. If you guys ever put this line in a trailer or anything other than a press release, I'm boycotting Bloodspell forever. ;)

    If you're going to continue to label yourselves the biggest and baddest machinima ever, then please at least fix the visual glitches and anomolies before releasing. Again, when you're at the level of "biggest evar" and "Cars", "We tried" is a disappointing response.


    "And every single person who chooses to watch BloodSpell rather than whatever's on TV right now - that's a win. That's someone who has conciously decided that BloodSpell is a better watch than Friends rerun #24 or a dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy."

    So apparently every single person who likes Bloodspell has consciously decided to cease watching all his favorite shows so he can watch 10 minutes of Bloodspell every other week. Big assumption there.


    "If you're publishing video drama, in any fashion, you're competing with Steven Spielberg, you're competing with Pixar, and you're competing with Fox, whether you like it or not."

    This is getting way too long, so I'll just disagree with this last one. ;) It's like saying a high school basketball player is competing with Michael Jordan. Technically, it's true, but it's very odd to say that... Michael Jordan or his fans / viewers / everyone else won't see the kid as competition, until he grows up and is on a similar skill level.
  • (Anonymous)
    Forgot my name once again!

    - Executor VI
    • you can't expect the rest of us machinimators to sit still and take the beatdown do you? ;)

      Hell, no! If you don't like the way BloodSpell is being made, or the quality of it, or the way we're trying to publicise it or anything else, go ahead and do it The Way It Should Be Done.

      BloodSpell (and the hype that's attached to it) isn't an attack on the machinima community. We don't need to push BloodSpell at machinima makers or viewers. You guys know about it (we haven't shut up about it for the past three years), and you'll either watch it or not. Some people in the community like BloodSpell, some don't. Fair enough.

      We want our film to make a splash outside of the machinima community, and to do that we have to send out press releases targetted at non-Machinima people. I'm as sick of the Shrek comparisons as the next guy, but it's hard to stop non-machinima makers from using them (CNN even spent an entire interview asking Hugh how he hoped to compete with Shrek, despite his repeated insistences that he didn't).

      If you're going to continue to label yourselves the biggest and baddest machinima ever, then please at least fix the visual glitches and anomolies before releasing.

      The impression that's coming across (and I may have just got the wrong end of the stick here) is that a lot of machinima makers feel that, at the moment, we're representing machinima to the outside world. But why are we the only people taking machinima to the outside world, if that is actually the case? There's nothing stopping any other machinima maker or team from publicising their project just as strongly as BloodSpell. I wish people would - there's lots of great machinima out there that deserves to be seen, but isn't being publicised enough.

      We're never going to apologise for using whatever tricks and cliches we have to for BloodSpell publicity. It's a big project for Strange Company, and we're banking on this one. We need it to be seen by as many people as possible. It is the biggest machinima project ever. That's not a lie or an exageration, so we don't feel any qualms about saying it. A lot, if that's what gets people to listen to us.
  • "They download Bloodspell expecting to see Pixar level animation and Tolkien style storytelling. Their reaction?"

    Thanks to the success of the Blair Witch Project, Clerks and many others, filmgoers are well accustomed to the concept of an independent feature film, which can be (and is) fairly considered to be in competition with the summer blockbusters, but which does not have the same production values. Indeed, this is exactly how Blair Witch was described - as a competitor to Toy Story 2, Fight Club and the other blockbusters of 1999.

    Machinima is essentially the equivalent of DV, but compared to conventional animation, not 35mm - not as pretty, but much cheaper and faster.

    "Joe Sixpack" is discerning enough - he's seen hundreds of movies and movie trailers - to understand that an independent movie is competing with the big guys on originality and story, as Clerks, Blair Witch, and BloodSpell all do. Whilst it's true that we're also competing with, say, "Brick", it's a less interesting comparison, because it doesn't highlight the unique features of BloodSpell and Machinima as a whole - the sheer scale of story a Machinima film can tackle, compared to the "three guys and a DV camera" limitations of low-budget indie films.

    "But you can't expect the rest of us machinimators to sit still and take the beatdown do you?"

    I don't quite understand here, I'm afraid. Our statement that BloodSpell is the biggest Machinima film was merely intended as a statement of an interesting fact about the film. Can you explain why you feel that it attacks your work?

    "America's #1 movie!"

    We don't say "BloodSpell is the best Machinima film ever", because that's neither a verifiable fact nor for us to decide. The scale of the production is an interesting part of the production, and one that we hope will pique people's curiosity.

    "So apparently every single person who likes Bloodspell has consciously decided to cease watching all his favorite shows"

    I do apologise - I probably didn't make my argument clearly enough.

    What I said was "every person who chooses to watch BloodSpell [has chosen to watch BloodSpell] rather than whatever's on TV right now"

    When one of our viewers sits down to watch a Machinima film, they are deciding that they will spend the next ten minutes or so watching that film. They have a wide variety of other things they could be doing. In my case, say, when I sat down to watch "Only the Strong Survive", I was probably choosing to do that rather than watch the latest music videos on MTV for 15 minutes, or play World of Warcraft for that time.

    So, because you made Only the Strong Survive, either MTV or Blizzard lost out on 15 minutes of my attention. They want my attention. You have my attention. That makes you a direct competitor for my attention with them. And you've won that particular competition. And when you put OTSS2 out, you'll probably win it again.

    And we're winning that competition with the rest of the available media - whether it's with MTV, WoW, Slashdot, or Buffy reruns - thousands of times every week.
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